By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer
Round 3 of the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship takes place this weekend at the Shanghai International Circuit in China. Marking the 3/4 point of the opening set of flyway races, this circuit is top notch with many opportunities for overtaking and a mixture of low and high speed corners. Built on swamp land and supported by underground concrete support structures, the circuit is a favorite of the teams and drivers.
There are a few stories that will come to the forefront during this race weekend.
Nico Rosberg is on a 5 race win streak, spanning two seasons and including the first two races of the current championship. The race in China will go a long way to establishing whether there is any real threat to the Mercedes juggernaut and what the battle will look like between Hamilton and Rosberg.
Formula 1 instantly gains the attention of the fan base when the racing at the front is exciting. We have seen that this year in both Australia and Bahrain, both of which were victories for Rosberg. While Lewis Hamilton is a sleeping giant and can awaken at anytime, Rosberg certainly has the momentum now.
China, however, is a track where Hamilton excels. He has won the last two races in China and 4 times total at the circuit. Having taken pole in each of the first two events of the 2016 season, Hamilton has been snake bitten by poor starts which have dropped him into the pack and allowed the front runners to build a lead that was not surmountable.
This week, Hamilton will face a similar challenge regardless of his qualifying effort as he has been given a 5 place grid penalty imposed for a gearbox change. This instantly places Hamilton at a disadvantage and could very well allow Rosberg to control the pace from the front and streak away to another easy win.
In a startling moment of serenity, the starting grid will be determined by the old qualifying format as the disastrous experiment which was “knockout” qualifying has suffered its death knells. The bell has tolled for this qualifying format as drivers, team owners and the fans suffered through a public exhibition of an idea that was not fully flushed through. Frankly speaking, it is the black mark on an otherwise exciting campaign.
On the positive side of things, kudos for Formula 1 for attempting something that they thought might bring excitement to the race weekend. Truthfully, this format did upset the gird somewhat, but having cars eliminated while sitting in the pits did not help to draw interest to the sport. For the die hard fans, it brought nothing but a bad taste to the sport.
It’s like when a beer drinker is offered a glass of wine. Thanks for the effort, but no thanks!
Old qualifying will be a welcome return. This format has always been a highlight of the race weekend and provides building excitement throughout the 3 sessions. Although the focus has been on qualifying, this issue really represents the heart of a problem that will need to be addressed as Formula 1 attempts to evolve.
The heart of the matter is Formula 1’s inability to bring consensus to the table and roll out an evolving product that brings tantalizing racing on the track.
Claire Williams summed up the situation when she remarked that Formula 1 should not let experiments play out in public. Instead make your plans behind closed doors and come out with a unified plan for moving forward.
Wise words, but not exactly how F1 tends to do things.
In contrast, Haas F1 Team could be used as an example of how to do things the right way.
Scoring points during the opening season campaign was optimistically expected for the rookie effort. Scoring 18 points in the first two races is simply remarkable and a credit to the effort of Gunther Steiner, Gene Haas, and the team they have assembled. Gene Haas has shown the ability to pick savvy dance partners evidenced by his association with Tony Stewart and Rick Hendrick in NASCAR, and now by partnering with Ferrari in F1.
Then there is his choice of Romain Grosjean.
Frankly speaking, landing Grosjean was the equivalent to a small band of rebels blowing up the Death Star. Grosjean is an incredible talent who appears to be hitting his prime and providing excitement and experience for the fledgling team. China will provide another example for Haas to settle into a rhythm and establish themselves as a solid mid pack effort. Maybe even better than that!
The long shot for Haas would be to an early season podium which would be another absolute stunner!
At this point, don’t rule it out!
This is shaping up to be another exciting round in the 2016 championship!